Bears gather for salmon at urban creek

Posted: Thursday, July 28, 2005

ANCHORAGE - Grizzly bears - lured by generous runs of salmon - are prowling dense brush along an urban creek in Anchorage.

In a single day earlier this month, state wildlife biologist Rick Sinnott counted the paw prints of at least eight brown bears, including a sow with cubs. He walked the creek from the east boundary of Far North Bicentennial Park to nearly the Lake Otis Parkway, a few miles to the west.

"There are long stretches of that North Fork where the bears have beaten a trail on both banks, so it looks like a bear highway on both sides, including roundabouts, merge lanes and rest stops," Sinnott said. "It's pretty amazing, but they're behaving and staying by themselves."

Except for the occasional fisherman and scientist, few people venture into that neck of the woods.

On June 30, about the time red salmon started moving up the waterway, Sinnott put up a large sign on the trail beside the North Fork where it flows under Campbell Airstrip Road, warning that bears had been seen there. He added more warnings to the sign two weeks later.

Silvers will start running next month and continue deep into the fall.

Mike McGovney, an owner of the Tudor Road tackle shop World Wide Angler, got a bad case of the willies recently when he went alone to the stream for some after-work fishing.

"The North Fork is about the bear-iest place I've ever fished," McGovney said. "Every gravel bar I stepped on had a bear track on top of the human track. There is every kind of bear sign."

The narrow creek twists often on itself through the brush. A person standing on its bank in many places can't see farther than 15 feet in any direction, according to McGovney.

"It's all up close and personal," he said. "There are places a little higher (upstream) where it opens up a bit, but it still stays in 5-foot-tall grass, 6-feet-tall grass."

On his recent visit to the North Fork, McGovney sensed the bruins, he said.

"I've had a few feelings on rivers where the bears are close by. That was one of them. I fished for about 15 minutes and just got an eerie feeling." He left.

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